From the ABC 7 Weather team

Birds flocking form a 'murmuration,' or living cloud (VIDEO)

November 8, 2011 - 01:17 PM
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Extraordinary footage: Thousands of starlings twist and turn above the River Shannon like a single, graceful animal.

Is there a word in the English language more pleasurable than murmuration? Padded with onomatopoeic softness that hints at its original definition, a "low continuous indistinct sound," the term has since picked up a second meaning for birdwatchers. When you're out in the woods and your binoculars-toting friend shouts "Murmuration!," that's a signal to look up with eyes wide open (but not your mouth) for one of nature's most phenomenal sights: a flock of starlings swishing and swooping together like one living, breathing entity.

The incredibly beautiful and strange group behavior of starlings has recently received major Internet props thanks to London-based filmmakers Sophie Windsor Clive and Liberty Smith, who entered a short film depicting a murmuration to a World Wildlife Fund video contest. (Video below.) The film, titled (you guessed it) Murmuration, depicts a canoe trip that the duo took to Ireland's River Shannon. It appears to be a gray, dank slog until they were suddenly interrupted by a bio-cloud of starlings that performed a dance worthy of the Bolshoi Ballet. Despite appearances, this is unaltered footage: "I can assure you there is no animation/CGI/effects of any kind in our film," the filmmakers say. "You are seeing what we saw."

Murmurations got a bit of play this year in the film Take Shelter, in which a possibly deranged man is repeatedly visited by nightmarish flocks of birds doing bizarre pirouettes. Here's one scene:

But murmurations, while they appear to be the product of a paranoid-schizophrenic mind, are as real as charms of finches, bouquets of pheasants, sieges of herons, unkindnesses of ravens and other bird formations with charmingly archaic names. If you're wondering about why starlings gather in these odd flash mobs, Wired has a good breakdown of the physics and biology involved.

Now, gawk at the mesmerizing murmuration in Smith and Clive's film, and keep in mind this question submitted to Vimeo by one astute commenter: Did you end up with much poop on you?

Murmuration from Sophie Windsor Clive on Vimeo.

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